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Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Page: 7676


Mr LINDSAY (11:39 AM) —The question of what is going on in the environment is not as simple as some would make it out to be. It is highly complex. Out in the Australian heartland there is goodwill on most people’s part and a recognition that we as a country have to show leadership in relation to the way ahead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But there is also a realisation that we have to be careful about damaging our own country for no gain. That is the trade-off that the parliament will wrestle with as this matter proceeds. There are some who say that if Australia cut off all of its greenhouse gas tomorrow, if the emission of every last tonne of greenhouse gas were stopped tomorrow, it would make no difference to the dire consequences that are facing the world—and there is probably some truth in that. Others involved in the debate would say: ‘Well, somebody has to show some leadership somewhere. We have to lead the world.’ To China’s credit, they are doing more these days than most people give them credit for in relation to meeting their responsibilities. However, I do not think the same can be said about India, the United States or Japan. So it may well be that we can join with China in leading the world in addressing these particular issues, and it is vital that we do. The Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 is part of our contribution to what we as a country may be able to do in facing up to these particular issues.

On Saturday I was on Magnetic Island, in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage listed area. I represent Magnetic Island and, of course, the city of Townsville in this parliament. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts was there to open a Solar Cities project. He said, as the member for Wills just said, that the former government did not do anything in relation to the environment. Here he was opening the first Solar Cities project in Queensland, which was a Howard government initiative. We will have a complete solar suburb on Magnetic Island, a great initiative. The bill before the House today was an initiative of the Howard government.

The bill was developed in 2005, when we were in government, and certainly it carries our support, as it will go through the parliament in this sitting. No-one should underestimate the Howard government or say that it was asleep at the wheel in relation to climate change. We committed $10 billion to the Murray-Darling system, where the Australian government was to take over the comprehensive management of that system. But what have we now seen the Labor Party do? Basically give it back to the states, and we are back to where we were. It is a shame that that has happened.

Under the provisions of this act, we will see authorisation for the storage of greenhouse gas substances—that is a quaint bureaucratic way of referring to what we are talking about—which, in essence, means the capture of carbon dioxide, together with any substances incidentally derived from the capture, injection and storage process.

In looking at geosequestration in Australia we do have a Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, with the quaint name CO2CRC, which is conducting the first Australian CO2 geosequestration storage project in western Victoria in the Otway Basin. Its aim is to demonstrate the effectiveness of CO2 storage underground. All of us should support geosequestration with a caveat. The caveat comes from me, which I believe will also have the support of the government.

There have been proposals to have geosequestration underneath the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is interesting that the member for Capricornia is here because it is that area under the park where this gas is proposed to be sequestered. I have said very publicly, and I believe that the government has agreed with me, that we should in fact exclude the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from sequestration because of the other issues it would attract if we were to do that. One other issue is oil drilling on the Barrier Reef. Both sides of parliament have been totally opposed to allowing that course of action. I am advised that successful sequestration projects have already been undertaken in Norway, Algeria and the USA. In Australia, Gorgon are well advanced in their proposal to sequester deep below adjacent Barrow Island greenhouse gases from their North West Shelf gas project.

Some people are concerned that CO2 stored underground could become unstable, could leak out slowly or could leak out rapidly following earth movements. This could result in the asphyxiation of people and animals. However, I observe that there are many places in the earth’s crust where oil, gas and CO2 have been safely stored for millions of years. Geosequestration aims to emulate these natural traps.

I have the benefit of some professional advice on this—my son is a geologist and he has a PhD. In speaking about this he is quite convinced, in his professional opinion, that the evidence is there to trust this process. He says it is extremely unlikely that CO2 will leak to the surface from a geosequestration site because the storage location is deep and overlain by impermeable geological formations that act as a seal. Storage sites, of course, will also be monitored to check the location and behaviour of the CO2.

It is vital that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, and this is one of the ways that we can do that. In Australia, particularly in Queensland, coal is reliable, plentiful and relatively cheap. Its supporters argue that we are likely to remain dependent on it for our energy needs for the foreseeable future. Through innovative projects to develop clean technologies—and the development of nominated carbon capture and storage is one of the technology options—we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that a power plant with a carbon capture system could reduce CO2 emissions by 80 to 90 per cent compared to a plant without a carbon capture system. However, CCS is expensive and unproven technology. If it works, the IPCC estimates that it will add 25 to 50 per cent to the cost of coal-fired electricity. But that is the cost that the community has to bear and it is the cost that the member for Wills referred to in his contribution to the parliament.

I want the parliament to know and understand that I support this technology. In practice, it will not be put into place in Australia for perhaps another 15 or 20 years, but we have to have the framework there. Through this bill, the Australian parliament is making that framework available for use in Australia. Hopefully, the rest of the world will see the leadership that we are showing as a country and take up the challenges that we are facing wherever those challenges may be. I wish to indicate my support for this bill.